What has happened since UT-Austin President Hartzell announced “The Eyes of Texas” is here to stay?

Sheryl‌ ‌Lawrence‌ ‌, News Reporter

Content Warning: This article contains discussions of gun violence, racist threats and death.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, sparking protests across the country against systemic racism and police brutality. The UT community looked to hold the University accountable for its racist history, specifically asking the University to replace “The Eyes of Texas” alma mater. The song is played to the tune of the “ Levee Song,” better known as, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” The song was originally written for and performed at a blackface minstrel show at UT in 1903, where white students mocked the Black community students, according to history professor Alberto Martínez’s report about the alma mater.

The Daily Texan compiled a timeline of events and actions from the UT community in relation to “The Eyes of Texas” from 2012 to the present.

May 2012

The Daily Texan opinion department published an article titled “Build from the University’s racist past.” The article mentions how “The Eyes of Texas” was performed at minstrel shows and discusses the racist origins of campus building names including the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

September 2014

The Daily Texan Life&Arts department briefly discussed the history of “The Eyes of Texas” in a “Throwback Thursday” article about long-standing campus traditions.

August 2016

The Daily Texan Life&Arts department spoke with Jim Nicar, author of the blog UT History Corner, about the history of some of UT’s traditions which included “The Eyes of Texas,” Bevo, and the Hook ‘Em hand sign.

September 2017

The Daily Texan opinion department published a piece titled, “UT must acknowledge, address institutional racism.

April 2018

The Daily Texan Life&Arts Department spoke to students about their uncomfortable experiences with racism on campus.

UT Student Government debated on whether to continue to sing the alma mater at the end of their meetings.

May 2020

The Black Student Alliance released a statement demanding justice for George Floyd, standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and demanding change in police departments around the country.

UT Student Government released a statement in solidarity with the Black Student Alliance and Black Lives Matter. Within the statement, UTSG said they would meet regularly with UTPD to ensure open channels of communication between student government and Black student organizations. The statement also requested the Board of Regents to reallocate $8 million from UTPD to Black organizations and students.

June 2020

More than two dozen Longhorn athletes called on the University and the athletics department to address the systemic and institutionalized racism at the University. Athletic demands included increasing diversity in the Texas Athletics Hall of Fame by including a permanent Black athletic history exhibit, donating 0.5% of the athletics department annual earnings to Black organizations and renaming an area of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium after Julius Whittier, UT’s first Black football player. They also demanded that the athletics department no longer require athletes to sing “The Eyes of Texas” after each game.

UT students took action by creating a list of demands titled “Student Community Statement: 8 Demands for Transformative Change.” These demands included discontinuing any use of “The Eyes of Texas” in UT related events, divesting from APD and UTPD, adopting a test-optional admission policy, incorporating land acknowledgements in all UT programming and renaming numerous buildings on campus. 

UT National Society of Black Engineers released a statement with eight demands for the Cockrell School of Engineering, including expanding outreach for prospective Black students hoping to enter the department and hiring more Black faculty, advisors and administration for the department.

Management junior Anwesha Ranabijuli created a petition named Have UT Austin acknowledge its Racist History and Vow to make Reparations,” which gained almost 20,000 signatures. 

July 2020

On July 2, junior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown announced he would sit out all team activities until “real action” was taken by the University regarding demands made by students in June.

On July 13, UT President Jay Hartzell announced the University would rename the Robert Lee Moore Hall to the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building, a change that had been in the works since 2019

In the same message, Hartzell said the “Eyes of Texas” would remain the alma mater of UT, but the University would work to acknowledge the history of the song. 

“It is my belief that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent,” Hartzell said in the message.

The message also announced the University would create a statue of Julius Whittier at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and rename Joe Jamail Field in honor of Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, winners of the Heisman award, an accolade given annually to the most outstanding player in college football. Additionally, Hartzell said UT would allocate millions of dollars from athletics’ revenue to University programs that work to recruit, attract, retain and support Black students.

August 2020

Some Longhorn Band members said they would refuse to play the song at the upcoming football games. Some band members said they were worried about losing financial support from donors if they did not play the song, but University spokesperson J.B. Bird said this was not a driving factor in UT’s decision to keep the song as the alma mater.

September 2020

After the first game of the season, some football players left the field for the locker room while the alma mater played.

UT students and alumni started the “Rewrite Not Reclaim” campaign with a petition and video discussing the history of the song, why it is offensive and why it should be replaced.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, sent a letter to the director of bands Jerry Junkin and Scott Hanna, former Longhorn Band Director, saying the Longhorn Band was ‘expected’ to play the alma mater. In July, Mary Ellen Poole, Butler School of Music director, said the Longhorn Band members would not be penalized for not singing or playing the alma mater.

October 2020

Hartzell announced “The Eyes of Texas” committee would be formed to explore the history of the song and the University approved $1 million to recruit and support students from underrepresented communities in Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. The University also launched a website that provides updates on the plans announced in July.

Former head coach Tom Herman said players would not be required to sing the alma mater but are encouraged to for the fans and the University. Herman also said the team was not divided over the song.

November 2020

Hartzell announced the members of “The Eyes of Texas” committee and said they were expected to complete their investigation by January 2021.

The statue of Julius Whittier at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was completed.

January 2021

“The Eyes of Texas” committee did not release their report and announced they would move the release time to the end of February.

March 2021

“The Eyes of Texas” History Committee released their 59-page report that determined the song was written in a “racist setting,” but is not “overtly racist”. The song debuted at a minstrel show on May 12, 1903, but there was no photographic evidence of the song being used in blackface and no evidence the phrase “the eyes of Texas are upon you” came from Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“The Eyes of Texas” is set to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” but the report said the tune’s origin is “unclear.” The committee made 40 recommendations, which included educating students on the history of the song.

Emails obtained by The Texas Tribune showed alumni and donors threatening to stop financially supporting the University if they changed the alma mater. In August 2020, Bird said financial support from donors was not a driving factor in UT’s decision to keep the song.

Martínez released an article on Medium contradicting the evidence found in the report. Martínez said the alma mater copied words, phrases and rhymes of the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” not just the melody as the University report indicated. Martínez’s report also said the song debuted at the first minstrel show put together by UT students contradicting the University report’s claim that the song was only written near the end of the minstrel show era.

The Senate of College Councils passed legislation and worked with administration to meet some of the demands listed on the 8 Demands for Transformative Change statement. So far, these include changing the requirement for classes to fulfill the Cultural Diversity Flag and continuing to use a test-optional admission policy. 

At the end of March, the Black President’s Leadership Council sent a letter to the University, UT President Jay Hartzell and the UT System Board of Regents that described ways to improve the Black student experience, including building a student activity center in East Riverside and increasing wages for student workers.

April 2021

The Texas Tribune released an article tying former Longhorn quarterback Colt McCoy to the list of alumni and donors threatening to stop financially supporting the university if the alma mater was changed.

The University announced that the Longhorn Band will be required to play the alma mater and created another, currently unnamed band to be assembled in fall 2022 that will not play the alma mater or the fight song. It is unclear whether this band will play at University events such as football games.

May 2021

The Senate of College Councils released a statement saying “there is no doubt that “‘The Eyes of Texas’ has not only an explicitly racist past, but harmful effects in the present.” The Black President’s Leadership Council started to work with the administration to fulfill the demands they laid out for them.

Martínez released another report detailing “100 Problems in ‘The Eyes of Texas,’” which outlines student, faculty and community arguments against the song. Martínez created a petition against the song and solicited signatures through email.

A man appearing to be loading a gun crashed an online meeting hosted by the service organization Texas Orange Jackets discussing the origins of the alma mater.

The Texas Tour Guides went on strike beginning May 1 demanding the lyrics of “The Eyes of Texas” be taken down from the Welcome Center. At time of publication, the guides are still on strike, but the office has brought on new guides to replace them.